Thursday, September 14, 2006


Mohd Shoaib Ghansar's verdict came in today. He parked a scooter laden with explosives in Zaveri bazaar and the resultant blast killed a lot of people and injured many more. A news report said, after he parked the scooter in the bazaar at around 2:25 PM, with the detonator set to go off at 3:05PM, he went to a mosque and prayed for forgiveness.

In the same report, they talked to survivors of the blasts and relatives of victims of the blasts. Though bitter at the inexplicable delay in the delivery of justice, they were somewhat relieved that it had been served at all. One of the persons, a brother of a blast victim, said his request to the courts and the government was that the strictest punishment, the death penalty, be imposed on Ghansar.

Accompanying the report were visuals of the aftermath of the '93 blasts. The 13 serial blasts made Bombay such a ghastly picture to look at! Buildings, vehicles, temporary and permanent structures blown to bits. Debris strewn everywhere, as though an angry child had run amok through a room full of carefully arranged trash. Shops, offices, banks, sites of livelihood destroyed in the blink of an eye.

But it is the image of the dead living beings(yes, a cruel oxymoron) that really gets you. Hundreds of dead men, women, children, animals, immobile, never to walk again. They say the dead tell no tales. But these hundreds of dead people, with their stillness and their hundreds of individual, different stories, tell a moving, collective one. One moment, they were going about doing this or that. The next, they weren't anymore; and wouldn't be doing it too, ever again. Involuntary targets in the crossfire of a deadly, insane war("Which war isn't insane?," you ask? You're right.).

I was watching that piece of news in my aunt's house and the person on TV said the punishment could range from five years to life imprisonment.

"Life imprisonment??" my uncle exploded. "They killed 250-odd people there, just like that, and they're allowed to live long and happy after that??? That is really unfair to the families of the dead!"

I agreed with him. I wished too, that Ghansar would be given the death penalty. Him and the Memons who were found guilty yesterday. It wasn't fair that there had been such a delay in serving justice, in the first place. To add insult to injury, for the victims and survivors, they were giving the perpetrators a chance to live and even go scot-free after serving a nominal(for them) sentence? That's injustice in the most blatant form.

It's interesting. This is the first instinct that is aroused in us, this childlike view of the world:- startlingly, starkly simple. You killed another person(many of them, in fact), you deserve to be killed too. Things are much clearer when we're children. We complicate this lucid picture ourselves when we become adults by bringing in ethics. Which is not to say kids don't have ethics. No, they have a lot of them, more so than adults. They just don't worry about them, that's all. Children in charge of courts and the judicial system would make it a much better world. But reasonable, rational adults are in charge and we can do a smacking good job of it, as has been shown many times over. We have such great regard for human life and its value that we wait for 13 years after a great tragedy and then hand out a perfunctory sentence to the criminals behind it.

No, what I want to say is, this is a very reasonable view-point. These people(if truly guilty of the heinous crime) deserve death and no less. But another, totally out-of-place view made its presence felt. A few months ago, in the MICAT(a very witty pun by MICA for their entrance test), we had been asked to argue for or against capital punishment. After a bit of thinking(we had only twenty minutes), I argued against it. There was some theological argument and also some rationale behind it. In the process, I also brought in Fellini and some other guys, to bolster my argument. I had also watched Kamal Haasan's 'Virumandi' a hell of a lot of times and abolishment of the death penalty seemed the way to go to me. After all, we did not give anyone their life; we cannot take it away either. The court might be an abstract entity with no motives or rights or desires of its own. But there is a very real judge there and there are very human lawyers presenting cases. A handful of people decide whether another should live or die. Most importantly, no one has the right to take someone else's life.

This is the conflict. Death, as a state-imposed penalty, seems to be, as a judge says in 'Virumandi,' judicially sanctioned murder. It is not a deterrent. If it had been, there would have been far fewer crimes, in fear of the death penalty. So, it has failed as a punishment. However, the anger of the families of the victims of such an heinous crime as the Bombay blasts cannot be ignored. Their demand for retribution is totally justified, since their loved ones were killed for no fault of theirs. So should death, as a penalty, stay or go?

How can anyone argue in favour of, even stand for, abolishing the death penalty now? Anyone doing so would be branded insane. And they would perhaps be insane too, in this case. Maybe no viewpoint is foolproof and can be stood by at all times. After all, even Gandhiji, disgusted by the concentration camps of the Nazis and the Holocaust, said war waged against Hitler would not be unjust, despite his(Gandhiji's) Ahimsa.


Harish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harish said...

Recently(maybe a year or so back), a person was executed in West Bengal as he had been awarded the death sentence for raping and killing a woman several years ago(again, a case of delayed justice). There was also a debate wheter he should be pardoned or not before the President too denied him pardon. Although the crime committed by the person executed was heinous, ghastly and unpardonable, I was disturbed a lot when I watched the news giving details about his execution. How can you take away one's life, I wondered.
Its always better to make the criminal serve a life sentence and try to reform him than kill him in one go. I strongly believe, none of us have the right to take away one's life. As you said, Virumandi conveys this message in a very lucid and touching manner.

Thank You.

Malaveeka said...

Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the name.

He raped and killed a defenceless minor.

The Judiciary awards death sentences only in those cases where it is felt reformation is impossible. Like cases of repeat offenders and such.

Of course, not ignoring outside influences(like class issues, as proclaimed in Dhananjoy's case) a death sentence may be misplaced sometimes.

But is there a more effective punishment? Because the funny thing abt life sentences is that they last 14 years. Then what? The pervert is out again?

Arjun Sharma said...

[Harish]What made the case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee(thanks for the name, Dirty Dancing) disturbing was the incessant media attention, I suppose. Everything, right from his appeal to his death, was focussed upon by TV channels. But let's not start another debate about the media's voyeurism. As we well know, you and I, that'll go on for a while!

[Malaveeka]"The Judiciary awards death sentences only in those cases where it is felt reformation is impossible. Like cases of repeat offenders and such.

So, are they waiting for a repeat occurrence? I'm not being belligerent here. I'm just asking. Seems a bit skewed, that logic.

And as for a more effective punishment, in the case of rapists, castration would be a highly effective one. I'm not being silly, it really would. People wouldn't be so callous if that were brought into effect. Of course, there are groups demanding death sentence for rapists. Hard to argue with that one. Which brings us back to square one on this debate about death as a penalty.

Malaveeka said...


What about woman abusers?

I'm not talking just rape here, because defined rape needs penetration

*rolls eyes*

I'm talking sexual abuse.

And yeah, death penalty is awarded to repeat offenders. The logic is screwed, but accn to them, how else would they justify death penalty?

Arjun Sharma said...

Women abusers? Er, isn't there anything equivalent that can be done?

Defined rape requires penetration; the same definition in our constitution which allows homosexuals to, perhaps, cohabit, but never to 'be themselves.'

So, for our law, one offence isn't enough? In case of sexual crimes, I'd have thought "Once a criminal, always a criminal."

Arjun Sharma said...

But again, as you said, awarding death does not come easily to any judge. I mean, the fact that one decision, hell, one signature of yours can kill a man will weigh heavily on you.

'Firmness of resolve' must be a criterion for someone to become a judge. We'll get nowhere otherwise.